The National Hockey League season started off with the usual hoopla, but let’s not forget that college hockey kicked off in full force after last weekend’s with a trickling of games. This weekend puts many Division I teams in action, and that includes the ECAC.
Last season may not have ended on a great note for the conference, but it’s still flying high after one of its schools won the national title in the two previous seasons. The conference no longer holds the reputation of being the “Easy-AC” that struggled on the national stage and during the NCAA tournament.
Most of the conference kicked off, but the Ivy League schools like Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton and Yale don’t start until later in October.
The league brings back some exciting teams and players that will make for a fun season.
2014-15 record: 8-20-3 overall, 5-14-3 ECAC (11th place finish)
Player to watch: F, Mark Naclerio, Sr. (9 goals-14 assists-23 points)
Outlook: The Bears struggled last season after a loss of many of their defensemen to graduation. Brown has five of six defenders from the 2014-15 team, but they need to continue their improvement. The special teams suffered due to the young defense.
The Bears do have a talented group of forwards such as Naclerio, Tyler Bird (drafted in the 5th round of the 2014 Draft by Columbus), Sam Lafferty (4th 2014 Draft, PIT) and Max Willman (5th 2014, BUF). The group struggled to find a consistency last season, but can break out. This season looks to be better than last year.
Predicted finish: 7th
2014-15 record: 12-20-5, 8-11-3 (8th)
Player to watch: D, Kelly Summers, So. (6-4-10)
Outlook: The Golden Knights had a hard time scoring last season, as they produced one of the worst goal-scoring seasons in the program’s 81-year history. NHL draft choices like Troy Josephs (2013, PIT) will be asked to pick up the scoring slack. The lack of scoring has been a problem during the Casey Jones era in Potsdam. The forwards are young, but have promise.
The defense and goaltending will be the strengths for the Clarkson with players like Kelly Summers, Paul Geiger, James de Haas and Kevin Tansey on the blueline and Steve Perry making his journey back to the net after a late-season injury.
Predicted finish: 6th
2014-15 record: 22-12-4, 11-7-4 (4th; made ECAC tournament title game)
Player to watch: F, Tyson Spink, Sr. (14-17-31)
Outlook: The Raiders were hit by a lot of departures such as Kyle Baun going pro and the graduations of Spiro Goulakos, Joe Wilson, John Lidgett and Daniel Gentzler. The late loss of Ryan Johnson after a great showing at the Montreal Canadiens pro development camp in July.
However, the Spink twins (Tyson and Tylor) are still there along with Mike Borkowski. The Raiders pumped in a total of 12 goals in a weekend split with Mercyhurst. Charle Finn had a rough start to the season, but was solid last year. Colgate’s depth may be its major problem, and Finn might get tested a little more than he did last season.
Predicted finish: 5th
2014-15 record: 11-14-6, 9-9-4 (7th)
Player to watch: F, Matt Buckles, Jr. (8-3-11)
Outlook: The offense struggled for the Big Red as it just couldn’t put pucks in the net, as they only potted 57 goals. Cornell even changed up their system to infuse some more offense, but didn’t have much success. Top two scorers Cole Bardreau and defenseman Joakim Ryan are gone, but there are nine talented freshmen coming into the fold.
The one thing you can count on with the Big Red is good defense and solid goaltending. Their discipline instilled by longtime coach Mike Schafer and strength at the back should keep Cornell in most games. Cornell used to be a team that could be counted on finishing near the top of the conference, but it’s getting tougher to keep pace.
Predicted finish: 10th
2014-15 record: 17-12-4, 12-8-2 (5th)
Player to watch: G, James Kruger, Jr. (13-9-4, 1.98 Goals against average, .926 save percentage; 3 shutouts)
Outlook: The Big Green were hit very hard by graduation as they lost captain Tyler Sikura, Eric Robinson, leading scorer Eric Neiley, Brandon McNally, and other key contributors. Josh Sequin of College Hockey News summed it up in his ECAC hockey preview.
All told 52 of 91 goals will need to be replaced. Two defensemen also depart from the blueline, in Andy Simpson and Rick Pinkston, making the total losses eight consistent contributors.
In total the Big Green lost eight players, and the loss of that much leadership could make it a long year in Andover. The younger players will be asked to step in and fill roles they’re not accustomed to. Dartmouth will play hard the whole year, though.
Predicted finish: 11th
2014-15 record: 21-13-3, 11-8-3 (6th and won ECAC tournament)
Player to watch: F, Jimmy Vesey, Sr. (32-26-58)
Outlook: The Crimson put it all together later in the season and earned the conference postseason title and the NCAA automatic bid. Nashville Predators draft 2012 draft choice Jimmy Vesey had a stellar year that would’ve won the Hobey Baker Trophy any other year. (That Jack Eichel guy kind of got in the way.) However, Vesey isn’t alone as he’s got Kyle Criscuolo, Sean Malone, Alex Kerfoot and Ryan Donato with him on a potent Harvard attack.
The Crimson will have to find a replacement for goalie Steve Michalek, who played in all 37 games. Freshman Michael Lackey and sophomore Merrick Madsen will battle it out for the starting job, but Harvard will be one of the favorites for the league crown.
Predicted finish: 3rd
2014-15 record: (4-23-3, 2-18-2, 12th)
Player to watch: G, Colton Phinney,Jr. (4-22-3; 3.08 GAA; .910 save percentage)
Outlook: Ron Fogarty’s first year in charge after coming over from Division III Adrian College was a rough one. The Tigers gave up a lot of shots last season and really struggled on offense. Phinney will again have to shoulder the load in between the pipes.
Princeton did start scoring in the last two weeks of the season, but still only totaled 39 goals. It’s been a dark time the last few seasons, but there are signs of life with Fogarty at the helm. Tigers fans need to be a little patient.
Predicted finish: 12th
2014-15 record: 23-12-4, 16-3-3 (Regular season champs; lost in ECAC tourney final)
Player to watch: F, Sam Anas, Jr. (23-16-39)
Outlook: Rand Pecknold has built a strong force in the conference in just a short time. The Bobcats return the most players on offense and defense and bring in six highly touted freshmen. Q-Pac were monsters in possession stats and have the system and personnel to keep that up with players like Sam Anas, Travis St. Denis and Landon Smith.
There is some concern about replacing the minutes, leadership and points of Matthew Peca and Danny Federico, but the Bobcats have a ton depth and experience. This is a team that can challenge for a league title and might be poised for a run in the NCAA tournament like the one that saw them go to the title game in 2013. (Quinnipiac lost to in-state rival Yale.)
Predicted finish: 1st
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
2014-15 record: 12-26-3, 8-12-2 (9th)
Player to watch: G, Jason Kasdorf, Sr. (11-19-2, 2.97 GAA, .907 save percentage, 1 SO)
Outlook: RPI already has an impressive win on this season’s resumé with a 2-1 win over top-ranked Boston College on Sunday. The Engineers defense stymied the vaunted Eagles’ attack thanks to the effort of Buffalo Sabres’ draftee Jason Kasdorf. The RPI netminder had a brilliant freshman campaign, but his last two seasons have been plagued by injuries. If Kasdorf can stay healthy, RPI can cause some trouble in the conference.
The Engineers do need some goals, as their offense was woeful and struggled in the advanced stats categories. Its 1,035 shots was only better than 13 teams, nationally. Riley Bourbonnais has shown promise with two goals and two games. Wins over teams like BC are a good start.
Predicted finish: 8th
2014-15 record: (20-14-3, 14-7-1 , 2nd)
Player to watch: G, Kyle Hayton, So. (20-13-3, 1.95 GAA, .937 save percentage, 5 SO)
Outlook: The Saints defied all early-season predictions and finished second in the ECAC based on the shoulders of the young Colorado-born goalie. Hayton has already racked up plenty of preseason All-American and all-conference honors, and is expected to help St. Lawrence stay in the top 4-mix. SLU may have not had the best possession stats, but they have a solid defense led by juniors Eric Sweetman and Gavin Bayreuther.
The Saints did lose leaders like Gunnar Hughes, Patrick Doherty, Chris Martin and Justin Bruckel, who accounted for 25 goals and 73 points. Hayton also stood on his head in the early part of the season, and that allowed room for error. However, coach Greg Carvel has a good thing going on in Canton, New York.
Predicted finish: 4th
2014-15 record: 19-18-2, 8-13-1 (10th)
Player to watch: D, Jeff Taylor, Jr. (4-27-31)
Outlook: The Dutchmen may have experienced an early hangover from their surprise national title in 2014, but got better later in the year. The defense picked up the slack near the end of the season thanks to the likes of Jeff Taylor, Sebastian Gingras and Noah Henry. Taylor was on the ECAC preseason all-conference team, and could make the leap to one of the elite defenders in the collegiate ranks.
Goaltending seems to be the big question in Schenectady as the loss of Colin Stevens might be felt hard. The Dutchmen have produced some solid collegiate netminders the last few years, and Alex Sakaleropolus gets his shot despite his troubles the last two seasons. If Union can help Sakaleropolus ease into the starting job, they could finish middle of the pack. It did get off to a solid start with a win over No. 3 Boston University
Predicted finish: 9th
2014-15 record: 18-10-5, 12-6-4 (3rd)
Player to watch: G, Alex Lyon, Jr. (17-10-5, 1.62 GAA, .939 save percentage, 7 SO)
Outlook: The Bulldogs won the national title in 2013 and ended the ECAC’s bad reputation in the NCAA tournament. (RPI was the last conference team to win the NCAA crown back in 1985 with the likes of Adam Oates and Darren Puppa.) Yale has arguably one of the best defenses and the best goalie (Alex Lyon) in the country. Lyon got to be a part of Team USA at the 2015 IIHF World Championships and is very technically sound. Rob O’Gara could a pro-ready shutdown defender.
The Elis need some more offensive punch in order to be considered a serious national title contender. They had trouble scoring besides having excellent possession numbers. If Yale can improve on their 42nd place finish in scoring, they could be heading back to the Frozen Four. This group is hungry to repeat the success of a few years ago.
Predicted finish: 2nd
It should be a fun season in the ECAC as the non-Ivy League teams have already gotten off to good starts as Clarkson and St. Lawrence had easy weekends. The ECAC could be in the mix for a third national title in four years.
Covered hockey since attending SUNY Oswego in Upstate New York in the early 2000s. Has written about college, major junior and professional hockey for the last five years.
Resides in Watertown, NY.